This was a good month of reading! I read fewer books than usual for a couple reasons. First, I am STILL listening to Spare. As I write this I still have 6.5 hours left, so I’ll have my review for you next month. Overall I am enjoying it but it’s really long, especially the war parts. (A friend recommended speeding up those parts — smart!). Second was Demon Copperhead. I finished that last night and it was hands down, my favorite book of 2023 so far. One of those beautiful, all encompassing books. Rough to read at times (there is a lot of trauma) but so worthwhile. The Ten Thousand Doors of January also took me a bit to get into but it was ultimately still very worth the read. What did you read this month? Give me your recommendations in the comments section!
PS – don’t forget about The Library, where you can sort and filter every book I’ve ever read by genre.
Everything I Read in January 2023
The Villa, by Rachel Hawkins
Ordering this one was a no brainer. I’ve always loved Rachel Hawkins’ books (she has such a great range and I especially love her thrillers!) AND it was the Bad on Paper pick and Becca (my friend/BoP co-host) told me she thought I would really love it, alluding to a narcissistic self-help influencer type. She was right – I loved it! It was the perfect treat book and a great way to start 2023 given that the last two books I’d read were of a more serious nature. This surrounds two best friends/frienemies. There is Chess (formerly Jessica), the influencer/self-help guru, for whom everything always seems to go right. And then there is Emily, a writer who is going through a horrible divorce after struggling with chronic illness, struggling to write her next book.
When Chess offers to take Emily to Italy for six weeks (where they’ll both get some writing done), Emily accepts. The only thing is that the villa has a bit of a sordid past. A horrible murder took place back in the seventies. Alternating between past and present, this one was super fun. You have beautiful Italy, frienemy drama, the sex/drug/rock’n’roll of the seventies, and a mystery. I loved it and couldn’t put it down. The ending didn’t quite do it for me which is the only reason why it gets an A- and not an A! Overall Score: A- // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Trust, by Hernan Diaz
This book was not on my radar until my book club decided to read it and I am so glad they chose it because a) it is amazing and so unique and b) I then saw it everywhere, including Obama’s book picks. This is one of those books where (and this is annoying as a prospective reader!) I can’t tell you very much about it because it will ruin it. But I want to gush to you about the last few chapters but will keep my mouth shut. I will tell you that it could be described as a jigsaw puzzle of a novel. It’s about money, but also: intimacy and relationships. And it made me feel a lot: it made me angry!!!
The book starts out in the roaring twenties of New York. Benjamin and Helen Rask are an infamous couple. He’s legendary on Wall Street, she’s the daughter of aristocrats. Together, they’re on top of a world that’s already excessive. Questions arise as to how they got this rich — and if Benjamin is responsible for the crash (and subsequent depression). This is all chronicled for the reader in Bonds, published in 1937. A book within a book! There are other versions of the story and we don’t know which one was true. All is revealed in the final chapter. This is SUCH a good book. I listened to it in audio form as it was sold out when I tried to order. I loved it. So smart and just brilliantly put together! Overall Score: A // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
This book came highly recommended by so many friends, but initially I wasn’t sure I could handle it. It’s really sad. There are content warnings for cancer, taking care of someone with cancer, a dying parent. On the first night I started it, I had a horrible dream where my mother died. But truly, the book is so worth reading. It’s beautifully written and will also make you very hungry.
Michelle writes about growing up (as one of the few Asian American kids) in Oregon, and her mother’s high expectations. I loved all of the parts about visiting her grandmother and aunts in Korea (it made me want to plan a trip!). And of course there are the more painful parts. Seeing her take care of her mother, watching her mother fade away, watching the Michelle and her father drift apart and fight… it’s really just an incredibly sad and vulnerable book (but so beautiful and unforgettable that it’s very much worth the read). I loved it. Overall Score: A+ // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Lobotomist’s Wife, by Samantha Greene Woodruff
I keep saying that I want to read more historical fiction and when I did my best books of 2022 post, a reader said that this was one of her favorite books of the year. I read this in two sittings, it was unputdownable. And slightly creepy but not as dark and disturbing as I can often go. Ruth Emeraldine is a wealthy New York socialite in post WWII New York. Her family owns the big hospital, and she serves as the assistant superintendent. She’s always been happy on her own, recognizing that her professional ambitions make her seem weird and out of place for her time. Her brother had died by suicide earlier and ever since then she’d dedicated her life to helping the mentally ill.
When she meets (and hires) Robert Apter, a brilliant doctor, she falls head over heels in love. Robert is supportive of her ambition and drive, and the two soon are married. When Robert pioneers a revolutionary new “miracle” procedure (the lobotomy), he is lauded as a genius. But he soon grows overly confident and negligent. Soon the lobotomy is being prescribed for things as minor as headaches or postpartum depression. Ruth realizes that she needs to stop him before it’s too late. This is a fun, easy read but one you’ll also learn something from it. (The book is inspired by real events and I really didn’t know much about earlier treatments of mental illness save for watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Overall Score: A- // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow
I read this book because a reader highly recommended it, saying it gave her Midnight Library vibes. And if you have been here a while, you know… that is one of my most favorite books. For the first 150 pages, I really struggled. A girlfriend told me to keep going, that it was worth the effort. And I am so happy that I did as I ended up really loving the book (gobbling up the last 210 pages in two sittings).
In the early 1900’s, January Scaller is the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke. Mr. Locke is a collector of curious objects; her father travels the world to help him add to his collections. January is insatiably curious, and finds herself in a predicament: both bored, and eager to explore the world on her own. When she finds a strange book in a hiding place, telling of secret doors (and a great love), her whole life changes.
Each page feels more impossible, more dangerous. The story she is reading entwines with her own. I won’t say any more than that but this is one of those books (once you get past the initial slog!) that leaves you with goosebumps, feeling like you just got home from an in incredible adventure. It had Midnight Library vibes mixed with just a little Cloud Cuckoo Land. Highly recommend. Overall Score: A // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver
I felt stressed out for a lot of this book. There is a lot of trauma (drugs, death, addiction, abuse) but while the subject matter is dark, its endearing protagonist makes the book a page turner. My mom had read it and loved it, many of you had said it was your best book of 2022, and I had finished watching Dopesick a few weeks before. This is a tough book at times, but if I could give it an A++ I would. So far, it’s my favorite book of 2023.
Damon Copperhead is born to a junkie mother. By the time of his birth, his father is already dead. He is the boy that nobody wants. He finds himself orphaned and family-less, going from foster home to foster home, just trying to stay alive. The storyline follows Demon from childhood through young adulthood, through horrible loss after horrible loss, terrible and sometimes abusive foster homes, child labor, heartbreak, more death, disaster, and loss. In between that there are pockets of sunshine (his athletic success, his friendships, his wit and sense of humor) which makes the book a compulsive read: Damon/Demon’s voice is really just incredible. There is also a lot of good social commentary.
I think this would be a great book for book club as I think it would evoke some powerful discussions. It touches on or at least shows us how we treat rural people, what it is like for kids who have to grow up way too fast, and the way that institutional poverty affects children. And of course the pharmaceutical industry. Read this book, I loved it so much. Also now I kind of want to revisit David Copperfield (Dickens) now. I read it as a girl but it’s been a long time. Overall Score: A+ // Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
I think you meant for this to be a post about the year 2023, not 2022!
Indeed! Thank you!
Demon Copperhead was such a standout to me as well, I think the last time I read a sweeping saga like that was The Hearts Invisible Furies, I would love any similar recommendations from readers in these comments!
I’m on hold for Trust and was told the same thing, the less you know going into it the better. Thanks for sharing, Grace!
YES — it felt similar to Invisible Furies to me as well. You’re going to love Trust.
Katie, so glad you said this. I’ve been avoiding Demon Copperhead because it sounds like one bad thing after the other, but I LOVED Heart’s Invisible Furies so now I’ll pick it up!
Just chiming in to say that it really is heartwarming, despite all the bad stuff that happens. Demon’s voice is witty and matter of fact, and there are a lot of good moments that happen throughout the story.
I read an ARC of Central Places by Delia Cai last year, and it finally came out this week! Highly, highly recommend – it was one of my favorite books from 2022.
Ooh I will check that out. Thank you!
I just finished Michele Obama’s The Light We Carry and it was the perfect thing to read going into this new year. She tells stories about her life and offers big sisterly advice. It felt like a warm hug. Highly recommend listening to the audiobook.
I want to read that!!!! Thank you.
Will you be adding photos of the book covers for these posts? As a visual person it’s been a struggle to picture the book you’re reading without the cover anywhere in the post. I miss your old way of doing these posts.
I am not planning on it but you can always see them at The Library — thestripe.com/reads 🙂
After starting and quitting multiple books in the past month (The Sanatorium, The Club, Mad Honey), I am really enjoying reading The Maid.
Grace, you nailed it — most heartwarming mystery! I bet I’ll be recommending to everyone once I finish.
Oh my gosh YES. One of my favorite books of 2022!!!!
You should read The Things We Cannot Say! Excellent historical fiction!
Ooh thanks, I’ll check that out!
Maame is the best book I read in January. It’s also in my top five for the year and we are only one month in. It’s literary fiction, and if that’s your vibe, I highly, highly recommend it.
I just ordered that! It sounds fantastic – thank you!
Oh no, it’s SO much more THIF and less A Little Life.
I’m glad to see you loved Demon Copperhead as it’s at the top of my TBR stack! I’m deep into Horse, by Geraldine Brooks, and I am loving it. She writes beautiful historical fiction with such compelling characters, and this one is no exception. Agree with you on Crying in H Mart, and am adding all the rest of this list to my book list 🙂
It is an amazing book!!!!
100% agree on Horse! I absolutely loved that book and came here to recommend it to you.
In the middle of the magnificent lives of Marjorie post and it’s amazing giving me real life Evelyn Hugo vibes!
I have heard such good things about that and LOVED Evelyn Hugo — need to read!
Grace, I think you’d love Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li. It’s an art heist book about repatriation of stolen and looted art. Really good!
Also, I just finished Leave The World Behind, a fun thriller and I noticed that Netflix has made it into a movie to be released this fall with Ethan Hawks and Julia Roberts.
This is in my TBR pile — need to read! Thank you! Will also check out Leave the World Behind!
I just finished the “ Spare” audio version. Wow! It’s mind boggling how corporate/mafia-esc the royal family institution is. I felt like I was going to have a panic attack just reading about Prince Harry and the other royals dealing with the press. I wish everyone would read this before passing judgement on him/them. It made me so sad for those boys, I have a lot of compassion for them and anyone who’s had to deal with this situation. It was fascinating. I’m interested to hear your take when your are finished. I also read “ Are you there god it’s me Margaret?” After you posted about it. Such a sweet read and so long since I’ve read it. Can’t wait for the movie!
I know, I couldn’t agree more. I realize that this is just his side of the story but I would never wish any of that on anyone. Makes the dream little girls have of being a princess into something much more sobering.
I also read The Villa in January and found the ending a bit disappointing (and one big plot point totally glossed over) but loved the escape to Italy and the frienemies set-up.
I did finish Spare and found the last third to be the most interesting. Speeding up the war section is a wise idea.
On your recommendation I read A Flicker in the Dark and really, really enjoyed. Now I am reading Stacy Willingham’s newest book – All the Dangerous Things!
Agree on the ending!!! and so happy you’re enjoying Stacy’s books — she’s a new favorite author for me!
I have been reading very light / fun books up until now but want to get in to something a bit more serious now that holidays are over. I did read Tomorrow x 3 and found it to be quite a slog – not my thing. That’s the joy of books though, each to their own!
Demon Copperhead was also my favorite book so far this year. I look forward to reading more from this post!
It was just SO good! I can’t stop thinking about it.
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis – I can’t sleep with the light out! Terrifying thriller and….so many lingering questions
Oooh that sounds like a book I will love, thank you!